For the past nine years the Community and Research Network (CARN) has provided an opportunity for TRIALS researchers to connect directly with those who have mental and physical health conditions to gain a greater understanding of their experiences.
This direct connection has given researchers valuable insight to co-design and facilitate research that speaks to the direct needs of those it aims to help.
CARN has done this by creating an environment where its members – health professionals, health consumers, researchers, interested community members and people with lived experience – can openly share expertise and experience.
For Clinical Trials and Interventions theme leader Associate Professor Olivia Dean, CARN provides a direct connection to the community.
‘We see CARN as a clear avenue for direct translation of research into the community,’ Assoc. Prof. Dean says.
‘A lot of my work involves producing scientific reports and similar academic documents, but I think it’s really important to convey research messages back into the community.
Associate Professor Olivia Dean
‘The community can understand what the research is and assist in supporting and directing where research should be done in the future. It also allows direct translation of research into the “real world”.’
This community direction has already played a part in research. Most recently, Professor Alison Yung presented her research on serious mental illness (SMI) at a CARN Network Meeting.
‘CARN provided valuable input into my Centre for Research Excellence application – which has been submitted to NHMRC and currently under review,’ Prof. Yung says.
‘I discussed the research priorities with the CARN group. CARN members emphasised the need for research into physical health comorbidities in people with SMI.
‘They highlighted improvements in oral health as an important but neglected physical health challenge. ‘Many spoke of the effect or poor oral health on self-esteem and well-being, its association with stigma and the difficulties faced by people with SMI in accessing affordable and timely dental care.
‘They also discussed the need to understand where and why health systems failed to provide optimal physical health care to people with SMI across a range of physical health problems, including cancers and cardiovascular disease.
‘As a direct result of this discussion, oral health was included as a research strand in the submission, as was examination of health systems in relation to oral health, cancers and cardiovascular disease.”
While researchers gain valuable direction from the community for research, they in turn shares its findings. The network shares information through bi-annual meetings, newsletters, social media and webinars.
In 2021, CARN launched a range of interactive webinars called the Student Seminar Series, which allowed PhD students from Deakin University a chance to share their work outside of academic circles. Research topics included thunderstorm asthma and how nutrition affects our mental and physical health.
‘The seminar series challenged me to think about my research from a lay perspective,’ says PhD student Tim Murphy, who presented at the November CARN Student Seminar Series.
‘This was a valuable exercise in science communication, especially at such an early stage of my research career.’
CARN has been involved in a lengthy list of initiatives and events over the years, including Humans in Geelong events and annual expos, Mental Health Month, World Bipolar Day, GHMBA public health and wellbeing seminars, Geelong Music Community Collective (GMCC) and the Art of the Minds events, activities and annual festival.
‘I enjoy exploring the science of our minds and body, especially in relation to mental health recovery,’ says Jules Haddock of Art of the Minds.
‘Education is empowering in recovery and I love sharing the interesting bits and bobs I learn from CARN researchers with others.’
PhD candidate Tara Johnson says the promotion of good health and wellbeing is a community effort.
‘CARN provides an opportunity for the community to both connect and be heard by a wide range of other community members, including researchers who are undertaking or planning cutting-edge research,’ Johnson says.
Find out more about the TRIALS team here